Functional training has become one of the most utilised forms of training but there is a hell of a lot of confusion about just what functional training really is.
While yes doing a squat while standing on a fit ball holding a barbell is a pretty impressive feat of balance, unless you need to do this on a regular basis day to day. It almost definitely isn't functional for you.
Functional training can best be described as preparing the body for the activities which may be encountered in daily life. Whether that be at home, work or while playing sport. Therefore due to the wide variety of activities and lifestyles we all lead, functional training sessions are going to be different for everybody, and will change as our lifestyles evolve.
That isn't to say you need try to mimic your day to day movements in the gym. There are a few movements that will have a high degree of transfer to most aspects of daily life and unfortunately squatting on a ball probably isn’t going to give you the return on investment for risking your ass and looking like a tool.
However, some of the fundamental strength training exercises are going to be some of the best to incorporate into a program to improve function. Squats, deadlifts & pull ups are a few of these fundamental strength exercises. Whether you are lifting 20kg or 200kg the benefits of these exercises will have a high functional strength cross over for most activities of daily life, think of things like picking up children, boxes, shopping bags, getting in & out of chairs, climbing stairs, walking, running & jumping all of these movements have similar patterns and muscle recruitment to the squat & deadlift.
Mastering these basic movement patterns will serve you far better in the long run than trying to attempt 100’s of different exercise variations. While balance type “functional” exercises may have their place in some circumstances, for most people a good foundation of strength will provide more benefit, better results and ultimately be more functional as well as a hell of a lot safer train for.
Remember if you want to train for function look to train movements that resemble those you may struggle with or need to be good at in day to day activities. Incorporating balance, plyometrics or handstands into a program does not make it functional. If you can build a program around the fundamentals of squats, deadlifts, pull ups and some pressing you will have a solid foundation to build functionality for long term performance.